Luke generally describes a meeting between Paul and the apostles in Acts 9:26–27. Paul gave more details as to this meeting in Gal 1:18–19. Paul mentions that he then left for Syria and Cilicia in Gal 1:21. Luke mentions this departure as Paul leaving for Tarsus in Acts 9:30 (Tarsus is a city in the region of Cilicia) and records his time in Antioch in Acts 11:25–26 (this was the Antioch in Syria; cf. Gal 1:21). Acts 22:17–21 records Paul’s recollection of a vision from Jesus during this time as well. What follows below is more detailed and chronological description of this time in Paul’s life. The passages above are cited, approximate dates are provided, and an explanation is given for why the accounts differ between Luke and Paul.
Three years after his conversion (AD 34), Paul came to Jerusalem for the first time as a believer (Gal 1:18; AD 37) and was rejected in his attempt to join the disciples―they were fearful that he was not truly one of them (Acts 9:26). But then Barnabas brought him to the apostles―Peter and James in particular―for a private, fifteen-day visit that, after an explanation by Barnabas of Paul’s ministry in Damascus, resulted in Paul’s fellowship with the brothers in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28a; Gal 1:18–19).
Having been granted this fellowship, Paul then preached boldly in Jerusalem and disputed against the Hellenists (Acts 9:28b–29a). As a result, these Hellenists sought to kill Paul (Acts 9:29b). At some point during this time, Paul was praying in the temple when Jesus appeared to him in a vision, warned him that the Hellenists would not accept his testimony, told him to leave Jerusalem quickly, and said that he would go far away to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17–21).
Whether knowledgeable of Paul’s vision or not, the brothers in Jerusalem learned of the Hellenists’ plot to kill Paul, took him to Caesarea, and sent him to Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9:30), where Paul would begin to fulfill Jesus’ instructions. Paul was there for what may have been roughly eight of what many call his “silent years” (AD 37–45), ended by Barnabas retrieving him and bringing him to Syrian Antioch where he stayed for a whole year (Acts 11:25–26; cf. Gal 1:21; AD 45–46).
As to why Luke and Paul differ, Paul’s burden in Gal 1:11–2:14 was to explain that his gospel was from Christ and not Peter, the apostles, and Jerusalem. Paul explained the primary significance of his visits to Jerusalem along these lines but did not need to recount all of the details of his ministry during this time. As to Paul’s preaching in Jerusalem, Luke wanted to provide his readers with the reasons as to why Paul left for Tarsus (in Cilicia) and described how he eventually came to Antioch (in Syria).
In Gal 1:11–17, Paul defended the divine origin of his gospel by recounting when and how he received it from Christ. Along the way, he stated that “he went away into Arabia” (Gal 1:17) but not what he did while he was there. A parallel passage for Galatians 1:17 is Acts 9:10–25, but Luke only tells us a bit of what happened to Paul in Damascus and mentions nothing of Arabia. Here are some suggestions as to what kept Paul busy in Arabia during this time.
Option 1: Once a zealot for Judaism, the newly converted Paul went to Arabia to study the Scriptures to understand how Jesus was the Messiah and how his life in Judaism had been misguided.
Option 2: Building upon the suggestion above, maybe Paul went to Mount Sinai because he mentions it later as being in Arabia in Gal 4:25 in the midst of a discussion on the Law of Moses (cf. Gal 4:21–31).
Option 3: Wherever Paul stayed in Arabia, Christ personally revealed to him the gospel just as He had done so with the other apostles. If we see two distinct revelations in Gal 1:12 and 1:16―God revealing Jesus as the Christ to Paul (1:16; cf. Acts 9:3–9) and then Christ revealing the gospel to Paul (Gal 1:12)―then this revelation by Christ could have been during Paul’s stay in Arabia. The revelation in Gal 1:12 thus takes place in Arabia in Gal 1:17.
Option 4: Rather than studying, Paul preached the gospel. This preaching could have been when “many days had passed” (Acts 9:23) between his preaching in Damascus (Acts 9:20–22) and escape from arrest in that city (Acts 9:23–25). If so, Paul preached in Damascus (Acts 9:20–22), continued to preach when he “went away into Arabia” (Gal 1:17), and then “returned again to Damascus” (Gal 1:17), only to flee from being arrested (Acts 9:23–25). Comparing Scripture to Scripture, Paul records this same escape in 2 Cor 11:32–33 and adds that it was overseen by the governor of Damascus who was carrying out the orders of the King Aretas who was, notably, king of Arabia. If the king of Arabia was seeking to arrest Paul in Damascus (2 Cor 11:32–33 with Acts 9:23–25), it was likely because Paul was preaching the gospel while in Arabia in Gal 1:17.
The last option seems best. It matches the timeline of Galatians 1 with Acts 9 and finds support in 2 Cor 11:32–33. Paul probably studied the Scriptures during this time just as he did later in life (cf. 2 Tim 4:13) and maybe even had one or more visions. We are not told one way or the other. But if Acts 9 and 2 Corinthians 11 give us any clues, his primary purpose seems to have been a trip to preach Christ until the threat of Aretas chased him back to Damascus.
All ladies are invited to join, "Living Real", a ladies retreat hosted by Bethel Baptist Church in Schaumburg, IL, held at the Lake Lawn Retreat in WI. Dates are November 3-4, 2017, and the speaker will be Jacqui Allen, a pastor's wife from First Baptist Church in Troy, MI. Cost varies according to room arrangement. More details can be found here. Signup sheets are on the information desk.
Paul states in one of his strongest passages, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8–9 ESV). Some thoughts:
First, the recipients of this letter were believers. There is some obvious “anyone” and “you” language, distinguishing between the readers from those who taught a false gospel among them. Though Paul skips his usual thanksgiving for the readers in this letter, Paul does not begin by cursing them―he curses the false teachers. If the readers are believers, they will return to faithfully holding the gospel they first believed.
Second, as noted above, the curse is reserved for the false teachers, and it is assumed that the action is by God. To be “accursed” is to suffer the condemnation and wrath of God for teaching a false gospel.
Third, this warning was repeated in multiple ways. Not only did Paul pronounce his curse twice in this letter (1:8 and 1:9), but he also warned the Galatians of turning from the gospel when he was first with them (note, “As we have said before,” i.e., when he was first with them). Some warnings cannot be repeated enough.
From the above, it should be clear that believers should not tolerate teachers of a false gospel within their local churches or in the body of Christ as a whole. So what do we do when we find them in our midst?
Other passages help answer this question. We warn them once and then twice and then have nothing more to do with them if they persist in their false gospel (Titus 3:10). These confrontations will involve witnesses and even the whole church as necessary (Matt 18:15–18; cf. 1 Tim 5:19–20). But we would hope that we might restore the transgressors with a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1–2). Nonetheless, if they persist in heresy and are put out of the church, we watch out for them and avoid them (Rom 16:17). We do not even give them lodging or wish them well on their way and thereby take part in their wicked works (2 John 10–11). It may even be that such ones leave the church on their own because they were never truly part of it in the first place (1 John 2:19).
And while that last paragraph may seem neat and tidy, we know from history and maybe experience that applying these passages can be messy, heart-breaking, and painful, whether in a local church or some other type of fellowship that enforces its unity around the gospel.
Let us be sure we know our gospel and be careful to distinguish ourselves from those who promote another. And let us not be confused to extend our fellowship as God’s blessed to those who are actually under the wrath of God.
Galatians is probably Paul’s earliest letter, written around AD 48 to churches in southern and not northern Galatia (the first conclusion among several debated issues, as you will see).
Assuming some dates (these dates can be debated) and matching Paul’s biographical details their parallels in Acts, Paul persecuted the church (Gal 1:13–14; Acts 9:1–2; AD 34), was converted (Gal 1:15–16a; Acts 9:3–19a; AD 34), preached in Arabia and Damascus for three years (Gal 1:17; Acts 9:19–22; AD 34–37), visited Peter and James in Jerusalem after these three years (Gal 1:18–20; Acts 9:26–29; AD 37), and preached in Judea for about ten years (Gal 1:21–24; Acts 9:30–31; AD 37–47).
Fourteen years after his conversion (so it seems; cf. Gal 2:1), Paul took Barnabas and Titus to visit Jerusalem again for a private meeting with Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:1–10), which may or may not be recorded in Acts (if so, Acts 11:27–30; AD 47; this conclusion is debated and hinges on another―see comments on Gal 2:1–10 and Acts 15:1–29 below).
Paul then went on his first missionary journey, which included planting churches in southern Galatia (Acts 13–14; AD 47–48). It is not clear when Peter came to Antioch and was confronted by Paul (Gal 2:11–14), but (making yet another conclusion) perhaps it was after Paul had planted the Galatian churches (thus, AD 48). Maybe Peter wanted to follow up on the gospel’s spread to the Gentiles as he had done earlier in Samaria (Acts 8:14) or visited while traveling to minister to the churches in general (cf. Acts 9:32).
Paul then went to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:1–29 a year or so later (AD 49), an event probably not the same as what Paul records in Gal 2:1–10 (another debated issue). This conclusion is supported in that (1) Paul does not mention the Acts 15 conclusions in Galatians and (2) Luke describes the Acts 15 council as public (cf. Acts 15:6, 12, 22) while Paul describes Gal 2:10 as a private meeting (cf. Gal 2:2).
Paul then visited the Galatian churches two more times at the beginnings of his second (Acts 16:6; cf. cf. 15:40–18:22; AD 49) and third (Acts 18:23; cf. 18:23–21:17; AD 52) missionary journeys (AD 49–51 and 52–57).
On a pastoral level, for as strong as Paul was in his letter to the Galatians, we can be encouraged that the churches corrected themselves and persevered, implied by the fact that Paul visited them in his second and third missionary journeys. While these churches were swayed for a time, Paul’s strong and swift denunciation of a false gospel grounded them in the true gospel again, leaving them strengthened in the end.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.